Casting Shadows: Light and Dark in Hermès Latest High Jewelry Reveal

Date: 11/21/2022

One jewelry-lover’s review of the brilliance found through Pierre Hardy’s latest Hermès collection exhibition in NYC, Les Jeux de L’Ombre. 

What draws us to the jewelry we love most? Is it the stones craftily used, the designs carefully curated, or the stories evolved from a single vision? For Hermès Creative Director of Jewelry Pierre Hardy – who this year unveiled his 7th jewelry collection Les Jeux de L’Ombre – it is all of that and more:

“Jewelry as a field of creation has so many rules,” he has said, “the cut, the purity. What I try to do is to escape the grid and create new shapes.”

If you know his work, you’ll quickly see Pierre as a designer who loves to toy with contradictions and duality. I first noticed this in his 2012 Cube motif collection, where he designed a collection of cuffs and bracelets in structural micro-cube shapes, only to have them blend into the comparatively flexible, soft, and curved nature of human skin. As someone who enjoys unusual contrasts between different colors and aesthetics, it was these sentiments and designs that really drew me in as I crossed the country for the first time in years to watch as the collection was unveiled in my old ‘backyard’, New York City. 

Being back home was like walking into a comforting, familiar past. I remembered the smells, sensations, and colors of the city in November as if I had only just arrived. I thought back to the first time I’d stepped off the plane in NYC in 1993, and gave in to the nostalgia completely. On the way to our hotel I watched the city pass me by, and reflected on the path my life had taken since I’d last been here. I allowed gratitude to fill every part of my body, and thanked the heavens that I was well enough to fly. There was almost no way to stop the excitement beginning to take hold: I was about to witness an incredible journey of memory, jewelry, and creativity!

So, sit back dear readers, as I let you in on what I learned about the story, the precious gems, and the design inspiration behind Les Jeux de L’Ombre during my recent excursion to see the collection presented LIVE at The Shed in Hudson Yards, New York City. 

The Story

Going into the jewelry showcase, I already knew the collection itself was based on shadow movement and light; certainly, Les Jeux de L’Ombre translates to “Shadow Games” in English. What I would learn, however, is that the story and vision behind this new ‘high-jewelry’ collection was intended to emphasize the playful nature of shadow in response to light, and even as an essential element of light. It is a collection that is intended to reflect and respond to a child’s desire to escape from shadow. With his deep love for dancing and theater, Pierre was therefore inspired to challenge how we talk about light and sparkle in jewelry to take what he calls ‘the opposite approach’:

“‘In the performing arts, I’ve always loved the incandescent effect of the spotlights as well as the shadows they cast onto the stage floor. I find this distortion of light very appealing. The collection is a response to this desire: to poeticise the form taken by shadows.”

As a result, shadows are just as important as light for Pierre’s latest collection. We as wearers and viewers of his art are thus meant to enjoy through bright light the deep and exciting transformations and contrasting interplay that occurs as each piece ‘gives birth’ to its own shadow. 

What’s most fascinating to me, though, is how Pierre manifested that vision into a reality–by surrendering to the natural ‘motions’ of light when shone through precious stones like jade and diamond. 

Precious Gems

To choose each stone for the 53 pieces found in his Les Jeux de L’Ombre collection, Pierre Hardy says he shone a bright light on each stone he viewed to determine the quality of the interplay between light and shadow, using the gem as the medium of transformation. As he says

“During the process, you have to choose stones, and you see them uncut and rough. I would light them with my phone to see which shadow they made, and the shadows were pure color! They were not black at all. I tried to make that into jewelry. I asked myself, How can I enhance the natural beauty without altering them?

For the Lueurs du Jour rings, earrings, and necklaces in the collection, for example, jade is carefully worked by hand to inspire a soft but luminous finish. For the Ombre pieces in the collection, shadow is emphasized with unique contrasts between titanium that is set in rose gold

Some of these pieces radiate such an intense and colorful glow, all thanks to Pierre’s slow and steady process for choosing which flat-cut white diamonds, black spinels, and blue sapphires would go in his pieces:

For example, the Chaînes d’Ombre necklace – which took 2,000 hours to create – uses all three stones and a functioning ‘release’ mechanism that emphasizes and obscures the diamond depending on its position. I think you can agree that the collection overall (as well as the collection’s ad campaign) inspires a futuristic, midnight cascade effect that exposes shadow as a focal point:

More unique to the full collection however are the Lumières Brutes, a series of iridescent rings and earrings set with rough uncut stones including yellow diamonds, brown diamonds, spessartite garnets, tsavorite garnets, and tourmalines:

When held close, you can tell each stone has been well cared for in their various illuminations, with each undergoing hours of careful craftsmanship to artfully set these unique articulations of stone in place.

Les Jeux de L’Ombre Design

In my humble opinion, Pierre managed to totally capture the essence of his vision for the work in each piece. Juxtaposing the light with the dark, each piece comes into proximity with its ‘opposite’ in both cut and color. Certainly, many of the pieces across the collection seem almost ‘split in two’:

Other pieces showcase these incredible gradients of color, that are actually highlighted by the rough disposition of the uncut stones used for the more intense pieces. At the same time, the softer, sci-fi elegance of other pieces is allowed to shine through by literally playing shadow games. As Pierre says himself: 

“It’s been a dream of mine: to leave the stones as they are. I have simply highlighted the shadow projected by the stone. I have invented as little as possible, even in terms of how the colors are distributed over the pavé settings. I worked almost like a geologist, as close to the mineral as possible. Projecting light onto a rough stone is a revelation, a wondrous experience.”  

Perhaps inspired by the experience of crafting this collection, the exhibitions featuring Pierre’s work have been curated to inspire a sense of high artfulness–of the moonlight brilliance beneath a diamond sun. Little did I know when I walked into The Shed at Hudson Yards this past November that I was about to embark on a journey of sound and light and shadow in the middle of good old NYC

Les Jeux de L’Ombre (Shadow Games)

Having been to a few fashion and jewelry shows, I know not to arrive with any expectations…especially since I always end up being blown away by the intensity of feeling and emotion that can be cultivated when different worlds of art collide. It seems fitting then that an exhibition that situates itself in contrast would blend music, performance, and jewelry in its presentation. 

Settled in our seats, the crowd’s excitable chatter dimmed with the lights. The architectural magnificence of The Shed all around, there was no ignoring a feeling of greatness – of being in a place that was out of this world. The performance soon began with a line of women walking on stage, of all different ages, and each adorned with a different piece from Les Jeux de L’Ombre collection. 

One by one, the group uptakes a repetitive mantra, singing into chants that echo “They disappear into the night. They disappear in the sun. They disappear in the light” over and over again. Strung together by shadow and motion, and toying with the interaction between their bodies, the glimmering jewelry, and the shadows cast on the translucent curtain sometimes used as a prop, these women explore the air around them with their bodies through a deepening sense of calm connection. Watching from the crowd, I perceived the precarious balance of tones and arts at play on stage, and let myself get swept away with the beauty of the music. For that experience, I would like to thank Lina Lapelyte, who choreographed the performance that felt like it ended much too soon. 

I then watched as the women left the stage and the curtain fell away to reveal a line of illuminated boxes, much like you’d find in a jewelry store or museum: 

Even from my seat I could see the reflections and shadows created by the lights in each box as they bounced from the remaining jewelry pieces stored inside; but I would soon learn we could walk up and view each piece for a closer look at their brilliance. I took my time with each piece, and even that wasn’t enough for as we turned to leave, I couldn’t wait to see the pieces close and personal at the new Hermès location on Madison Ave later on.

A Collection Set Apart from the Rest in 2022

In a world that, as Pierre says, is prone “to erase the shadow to show as much light as possible”, I believe focusing on the darker sides of life are just as important as shining beautiful light on things. Not everything is easy, or clean, or bright; and the message I took from this moving showcase was that the darkness that exists all around us in the shadows has its own beauty, and in fact, it is because of this contrast that we may even experience luminous light and color at all! 

So, with that said dear readers, these jewelry pieces are unlike anything I have seen this year, or in the years prior. They seemed to call to the very shadows of my Self as I watched with eerie amazement each piece glimmering amid ethereal song. The resonant power of that performance is still with me as I write to you now, and has me wondering whether any of my readers happened to be there that evening. 

If so, what did you think of the show? Did you have as engaging of an experience as I? What piece called out to you the most? I would be eager to hear what you have to say, and can’t wait to see photos of you accessorizing with what are sure to become classic Hermès icons from Les Jeux de L’Ombre.

With that, I give my thanks to the creative direction of jewelry genius Pierre Hardy, and look forward to getting out to more showcases this year. See you out there!

All my love,